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2013-14 NHL Division Battle Analysis: The Atlantic Division, Part I


In this blog, On Goal Analysis analyzes the 2013-14 schedules of Boston, Buffalo, Detroit and Florida in the Atlantic Division. Here at OGA, we are looking for stretches where the tough points will have to come, something we call Division Battles. Some stretches seem cruel. And these Battles will end in seasonal peaks and valleys that range anywhere from periods of potential dominance to playoff elimination.

This is the first of a multi-part series as we will look at all of the Division’s schedules in this manner leading up to the season.

Boston Bruins

October:

NOTES: Six games of their first 10 fall against Division rivals. Three each are at home and on the road. In particular, all four games between 14 and 23 October are in the Division. Prediction: 3 – to – 4 Division wins

7 – 15 November:

NOTES: Four – of – five games versus the Division. Three are at home and one on the road. The first three games are played in five nights during a lengthy home stand. Prediction: 3 – to – 4 Division wins

December:

NOTES: Short sprints, here. From 5 – 8 December, they play at MTL and TOR with a game vs PIT sandwiched in between. They then maneuver around the short Christmas break with two of what we here at OGA like to call ‘Black & Blue Pairs’ (B&BP) – two games home – and – away against the same team with no distracting games in between. These are 19 & 21 December against BUF and 27 & 28 December against OTT. Prediction: 3.5 – to – 4 Division wins

March:

NOTES: March 4 – 12 brings a four – in – five – game draw against the Atlantic Division. Three of the four are versus Florida teams and one is against Original Six rival MTL. Prediction: 2 – to – 3 Division wins

Final 10 Games:

NOTES: Only three games within the Division. They are at DET and TOR on 2 & 3 April and versus BUF at home on 12 April. The question here is how tired are they? Along with FLA, this is the second most advantageous ending in the Division as far as having to fight for final Division points. This is the Bruins, right? No prahblum… But will they need to fight after last year’s long season and the second highest increase in travel mileage in the League? Quite possibly. Prediction: 1 – to – 2 Division wins

Buffalo Sabres

October:

NOTES: Let’s take this in two chunks. Buffalo plays their first 10 games of the season between 2 and 19 October. They open with three of their first four games in the Division at DET and versus OTT and TBL with PIT shoved in there to boot over seven days. Ouch. And then Games 11, 12 and 13 are versus BOS and at FLA and TBL in four days before the month ends. Clearly a scheduling conspiracy. Prediction: 1 – to – 3 Division wins

November:

NOTES: November is a bit chunky, too. They have a B&BP against TOR 15 & 16 November, and then pick up three home games versus DET, MTL and TOR again around Thanksgiving. This is all about how well both BUF and TOR are playing at that point in the season. So… Prediction: 1 – to – 3.5 Division wins

December:

NOTES: Mid-month to Christmas, BUF nets two B&BPs against OTT and then BOS. They also pick up their fourth of five games at TOR on 27 December coming out of the break. B&BPs tend to be very competitive unless a team is in injury distress or outright collapse. Prediction: 2 – to – 3 Division wins

Final 10 Games:

NOTES: Four games within the Division, two at home and two on the road AND split up with non-Divisional games. While they get TBL at home, the other three are a pair against DET and one versus BOS. If Buffalo is sitting on the verge of a playoff position, these four games will either kill or secure their chances. Prediction: 1 – to – 2 Division wins

Detroit Red Wings

October:

NOTES: Two of their first three games are in their new Division and Conference. (Versus BUF to open the season on 2 October and at BOS three nights later.) Although this is the dreaded three – games – in – four – nights run, it is also the Red Wings’ chance to announce their presence. Prediction: 1.5 – to – 2 Division wins

23 November – 1 December:

NOTES: Four – of – five games within the Division ensue here. They have a three – games – in – five – nights stretch versus OTT and at BUF back – to – back, followed by two nights off before they have BOS into The Joe. They then embark on a short road trip to Long Island before they land in OTT on 1 December. If BUF is on a hot streak and the Red Wings get caught looking ahead to BOS this might end in a split. Prediction: 2 – to – 3 Division wins

Before the Winter Classic:

NOTES: It might be painful here to say from 7 – 28 December the ‘Wings play six – of – 10 inside their Division. The amount of friction here, however, will depend on how the state of Florida is playing at this time. That is because three of these games are against FLA and two against TBL. The other Division contest is at TOR before Christmas to get things warmed up for 1 January and the WC. Prediction: 3.5 – to – 4 Division wins

Around the Olympics:

NOTES: Interestingly, Detroit bookends the Olympic break with a pair in Florida at FLA and TBL before, and at MTL and OTT back – to – back right after the break. Roll the dice here. Prediction: 1 – to – 3 Division wins

Final 10 Games:

NOTES: Just look at Detroit’s last 10 games and your question might be whether or not the League was trying to see if they could break the ‘Wings playoff appearance streak. Games 73 – 79 on the schedule are all played within the Division. They are: versus MTL, at TOR and versus TBL in four nights; a two – night break; versus BOS and BUF and at MTL in four nights; another two-night break; and then at BUF (followed the next night at PIT). This makes you wonder if DET will not attack the season by trying to kill everyone early on in order to enter this period in the mid – to upper–80 points area so they can rest wounded warriors before the Playoffs.  Prediction: 3.5 – to – 4 Division wins

Florida Panthers

December:

NOTES: Did you notice there was no mention of any streak of Divisional games for the Panthers in October and November? There are indeed six Division engagements spread out over those two months. But the real fun starts in December. Similar to Detroit’s ending, Florida nets nine – of – 13 games from 3 – 29 December within the Division. They have: three DET’s; two OTT’s; two MTL’s; and one each TOR and TBL. And a partridge in a pair tree. Depending on how the boys are playing and whether or not they are underestimated… Prediction: 3 – to – 5 Division wins

End Of January / Early February:

NOTES: From 21 January to 6 February, the Panthers land six – of – eight games inside their Division. They open this stretch at BUF after playing at PIT the night before. After a one game home stand versus COL, they are on the road to DET, BOS and TOR over five nights. They close out this stretch at home against TOR and DET on the front of a three – games – in – four nights run. Prediction: 3 – to – 4 Division wins

Early March:

NOTES: From 4 – 14 March, Florida nets four of five games with Division foes. Twice they play BOS, once against BUF and another at cross-state rival TBL. The good news here is there are no back – to – back nights in the stretch, so plenty (sort of) recovery and preparation time is there to potentially do well. Prediction: 2 – to – 3 Division wins

Final 10 Games:

NOTES: And the scheduling Gods were kind to close out the season with only three Divisional games. They are all versus Canadian teams, so this will all depend on the fight in their northern opponents here. Prediction: 0 – to – 1.5 Division wins

Summary

So what did we learn here?

Firstly, each team experiences four – to – five of these Divisional Battles. We were not present to see the NHL build the schedule, so we do not know if this was purposeful, or simply a product of arena availability coupled with inter-Divisional game requirements. Either way, it seems about fair.

By team, our estimation of these Battles in order of maximum gain indicates teams could win as below:

Boston: Wins 12.5 – 17 of 23 games / .544 – to – .739 Hockey for .767 of their Divisional schedule.

Detroit: Wins 11.5 – 16 of 23 games / .500 – to – .696 Hockey for .767 of their Divisional schedule

Florida: Wins 8 – 13.5 of 22 games / .364 – to – .614 Hockey for .733 of their Divisional schedule

And Buffalo: Wins 5 – 11.5 of 20 games / .250 – to – .575 Hockey for .667 of their Divisional schedule.

Clearly here, Boston and Detroit have to be pre-season favorites to be in the Top 8 teams in the Conference. This aided them when analyzing the low-end of predicted Battle wins. These lower end predicted Wins will not sink their battleship as long as they are better than those percentages throughout the rest of the season. Florida and Buffalo, simply put, will have to win in the higher end of their predictions to retain a shot at a Playoff spot.

With the above Battles netting at least 2/3 of Divisional schedules and 1/4 or more of their entire season, there are other places teams can make up points. But you would be hard-pressed to find times that are potentially more decisive.

The next analysis blog examines the second half of the Atlantic Division in Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto. At the end of this blog, we will give you our ranked order of the top five potential Atlantic Division teams as they play through these Divisional battles.

 

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